2020 has underwhelmed – both on and off the field it’s been the complete opposite of what we expected for Hull FC this year, but regardless of current circumstance there’s always a joy to be found in getting one over that lot over the river, and Thursday night was no exception.
An unprecedented set of events in an absolute car crash of a season, think Lyle Lanley, monorails, and Homer Simpson as the conductor, meant the Derby was moved in true Springfield fashion, 100 odd miles down the road to St Helens and played in an empty Langtree Park ground. A complete contrast then to what in times of normality would have been a packed out Blue Elephant stand with chants of Since 1985 that normally fill the Craven Park air before a Derby on the East side of Hull. Seems a lifetime away, not that any Hull fans will want to reminisce the last two trips over Myton Bridge. More 20-0 comebacks and winning with twelve men. Those were the days.
Behind closed doors once again this was another unusual occasion in this unusual season, but thankfully it saw Hull pick up what was in the end an easy 31-16 win against the Super League wooden spooners. The Black and Whites coasted at times and once a comfortable enough lead was established there was never any danger of relinquishing it. A first half that flew by was followed by a scrappy second that was full of grunt and certainly not finesse as Hull took their foot of the gas. The display from Andy Last’s side was satisfactory. They did enough. There was nothing, say a few plays from the stand in fullback aside, that were out of the ordinary, and that’s been the story throughout recent displays against the dross of this competition.
Still a Derby victory is always welcome and especially one that earns a bit of silverware for the late great Clive Sullivan. Whilst Hull weren’t startling the contest became a one way street and after a nip and tuck first half an hour the game quickly swayed their way. The city’s premier rugby league club don’t disappoint when it comes to local bragging rights – especially in recent years. With famous Wembley songs abolished and Rovers’ best players moving west there’s not much opposition these days and the ammo is endless, with their saving grace from certain relegation being the bloke that decided to eat a bat for tea sometime last year and cause a global pandemic. They are absolutely abysmal, and the petulance of the perfectionist is actually annoyed that Hull didn’t replicate last years record score and put them to the cleaners again.
Hull, playing in a weird combination of the principal home shirt and the cup white shorts and socks, had their most talented player to thank for most of their points. Jake Connor on his 100th club appearance was sensational. Playing at fullback he popped up with four try assists – two of which were excellent cut out passes, one a slick grubber kick and the other a darting run with a crafty offload at the end of it. All the assists were easy on the eye with pretty much everything Connor touched turning into gold.
Sure the quality of the opposition was poor and actually sees them at the foot of the table after Agent Chester’s recent Wakefield revival (chomp, chomp chomp), but you can only play what’s in front of you and a good proportion of Connor’s good form over the last month has come at fullback. There’s mileage there and with Jamie Shaul’s ACL injury there could be plenty more to come. Worth noting too that his display is all the more impressive given the late change and therefore notice after Josh Griffin’s withdrawal putting Connor at one and bringing young Ben McNamara into the halves.
Elsewhere and benefitting from the poise and service of Connor, Bureta Faraimo was excellent. He’s a wrecking ball and ate up the metres all night. Rovers’ right edge couldn’t handle him and he got a try brace to follow on from a devastating break early in the game to set up the field position for Josh Bowden to score. On the try front Ligi Sao also got his first for the club and impressed again in what will go down as a solid first season in Super League. There’s always an increase in intensity when Sao is on the field and the same can be said this week for record breaking man Danny Houghton who thrives in these occasions, leapfrogging Ned Rogers’ appearance total for Hull in Derbies. Sao and Houghton’s introduction off the bench steered the game Hull’s way and from then on the result was a formality. Manu Ma’u is also worth a mention, he’s hard as nails and ran strong all game, as did new cult hero and ex-Rovers forward Joe Cator. The size of Hull told. They were bigger, stronger, and faster.
However despite the norm of some individuals impressing the whole team performance from Hull wasn’t glittering and the display has plenty of improvement in it. Even when the wins come the unforced errors and soft defence are still there. Both were on show here whether in the shape of a forward pass, dropped ball, or a lack of concentration or potency in defending the line. It’s embedded into Hull and it’s so frustrating even in victory as there is potential with this side but they hinder themselves with an incomplete set, a clunky attack, or a misread in defence.
Fortunately recent opponents haven’t possessed the quality to capitalise on such errors. The month of October has seen Hull win their last three games and in fact four from their last five, gaining the mid-table mediocrity tag of sixth position when at one point it looked like they’d be bottom four fodder. There’s been improvement on earlier results but it’s gone hand in hand with the opposition they’ve faced. The gap between top and bottom is a big one, and Hull are sitting in the middle of it all. However Wigan, Warrington and the like was a different story last month and one way or another over the next fortnight we will get a proper incidation to where this Hull side are really at.
All the build up to this bizarre Derby was all about Super League moving the goalposts again due to its obsession with avoiding dead rubber fixtures. The solution, which will be discussed by clubs next early week, is to scrap the last two regular rounds and instead hold a top six play-off. This would put Hull in the mix again in a season where they don’t really deserve to be, presenting an opportunity for one last reality check from a set of Pies or Wires. On the contrary for balance and box ticking for the upbeat, that would present the opportunity for a miracle with the Grand Final taking place at Hull’s KCOM Stadium, but that’s about as likely as a Rovers fan not whinging about set restarts and some bloke called forrrrwarrrrddd.
Ironically Hull were the beneficiary of a few six again’s in the Derby. They are still up for debate and they helped the cause, there’s no doubt about that, but they are a reward for winning the ruck and playing on the front foot. Hull’s size and speed ensured that was the case and Connor and co soon turned possession into points in the first half with the second having a conservative feel about it. Some frustration crept in as Hull played it safe and didn’t go for the kill, but they did what was needed to be done and Rovers were helpless to prevent it. As you were.
Rovers Starting XIII: 19. Will Dagger, 2. Ben Crooks, 3. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 4. Kane Linnett, 22. Nick Rawthorne, 7. Jordan Abdull, 20. Mikey Lewis, 15. George Lawler, 9. Matt Parcell, 36. George King, 11. Weller Hauraki, 13. Dean Hadley, 27. Elliot Minchella. Interchange: 8. Robbie Mulhern, 25. Matty Gee, 26. Will Maher, 35. Rowan Milnes.
Rovers Tries: Hadley, Linnett, Crooks. Goals: Dagger 2/3
Hull Starting XIII: 6. Jake Connor, 33. Ratu Naulago, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 24. Mahe Fonua, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 35. Ben McNamara, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 16. Jordan Johnstone, 22. Josh Bowden, 23. Andre Savelio, 12. Manu Ma’u, 15. Joe Cator. Interchange: 9. Danny Houghton, 10. Chris Satae, 13. Ligi Sao, 20. Brad Fash.
Hull Tries: Bowden, Faraimo 2, Naulago 2, Sao. Goals: Sneyd 3/6
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Jake Connor, 2pts Bureta Faraimo, 1pt Manu Ma’u
Scoring System: 0-7 (Bowden), 6-6 (Hadley), 6-12 (Faraimo), 12-12 (Linnett), 12-16 (Naulago), 12-22 (Sao), 12-26 (Faraimo), 12-30 (Naulago), 12-31, 16-31 (Crooks)
Attendance: Behind Closed Doors
Referee: Liam Moore